Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Computer Labs for Kids: Update on SOS Childrens Village
Prior posts! The children who participated in the program, all residents of the SOS Childrens Village, ages five through eight, were so well-behaved - it was just remarkable to me. I don't have the words to describe what I felt as I watched them participating in the first part of the program on Common Sense Values. One would expect children of these ages to get a little antsy after awhile, but these kids didn't. They were so intent! This was the largest project yet that Shira and Computer Labs for Kids has undertaken (prepared for 28 children, all of the residents of SOS Children's Village between the ages of five and eight). Having an individual "buddy" for each participant was a stroke of genius and probably one of the keys to the program's success. Each child was able to proceed at his or her own pace with the buddy, a volunteer who went through special training. But, in addition to preparing the program for this many children, Shira had to line up volunteers and get them trained! At the conclusion of the Awards Program (where each child received a Certificate for successfully completing the Values portion of the program), a 15 minute break was well received by everyone! Whew! Many of the children rushed to the bathrooms but then they rushed right back into the class room to their work table. Some shared a snack with their buddy; some went through their workbooks once again with their buddies, but I saw many children going through their completed workbooks by themselves! I don't know what time it was; the day that had started out mild and partly sunny had turned darker and cloudy, and I wondered if the kids would make it all the way to 5 p.m., when it would be almost full dark. It seemed we still had a long way to go. And then, Shira was calling everyone to attention. The room was suddenly abuzz with anticipation! The Dell notebook computers were being handed out to the buddies! The expressions on the childrens' faces as their buddies came back to the work tables with those trademark green Dell notebooks - priceless! Shira had worked very hard to customize the programs downloaded to each notebook, and she made sure that each notebook would be "fail safe." As I understand it, each notebook has special settings that will restore it to the way it was before a disaster occurs - such as a child deleting all of its programs or the computer contracting some nasty virus. I'm not a techy, but I think that is what she meant! Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of this special program that makes this happen (and I'm probably not describing it corrrectly, either). The second part of the program was designed to go through the basics of operating the notebook with the children, with a 30 minute period after graduation to allow each child to work with his or her buddy to answer individual questions and explore all of the programs further. This was accomplished by video images of the notebook on the wall that walked each child through the essentials (how to turn the notebook on and off; how to tell if your notebook is on or off; how to open a program; how to close a program; exploring the features of the programs; how to properly shut down the notebook and close it for future use; etc.) To successfully conclude the second part of the program, each child had to complete a workbook with his or her buddy (as they did in part one). A sticker placed after each assignment signified successful completion! Before I knew it, more than an hour had passed and everyone had completed their workbooks. The children once again lined up to receive their Certificate for completing the second part of the program. I took my place as Holder of the Sacred Certificates and called out the name of eac child as I handed the certificate to Shira who, in turn, presented it to the child. And then, each child's buddy stepped forward and presented the child with the notebook computer they had worked on during the program. Photo: The buxom beauty on the left with the certificate in hand is me; the lean, winsome beauty bending down to present a certificate to one of the students is Shira. Greg is standing to the right, looking on. In the background are some of the buddies with notebook computers in hand, waiting to present them to their students. Somehow, we had managed to finish ahead of schedule! The kids had plenty of time to work with their buddies on the notebooks before 5:00 p.m., when their foster parents would arrive to take them home. They were eager to do this! All of the children spent the rest of the time with their buddies learning how to use the programs on their notebooks. Some of them reviewed the Common Sense Values program that we had worked through in the first part of the program. Photo: one of the children working through "The Road to Happiness" program installed on each of the Dell notebooks. The program teaches common sense values without preaching any particular religious creed. Respect for others, their property and their dignity as human beings, and tolerance of others who are different than you, are core concepts presented in this part of the program presented by Greg Molinaro. The presentation was tweaked to teach the children how to care for their notebook computers, how to protect them, keep them clean, keep them safe, and how to respect to notebooks and property of others. During this last portion of the program, Erin, Shira, Greg, Lynn and I had to deconstruct our set-up! Whew! It had taken us hours to get everything right, and now we were tearing it all back down! It was work, but it seemed to go much faster than setting up did. Finally, it was almost over! The children packed up their notebooks, workbooks and certificates. They were led downstairs to wait for the arrival of their foster-parents. Although tired, I couldn't stop smiling. It seemed that no one else could stop smiling either :)) Finally, everything was packed up and Erin, Shira and I lugged it down to Shira's car. The guys (presenter Greg and Lynn, who videotaped during the entire program) were in the parking lot packing up their own car, and they asked us out to dinner - how sweet! We were all ready to kick back and relax a bit, and relish a successfully completed program! The guys picked a special place in Bucktown. None of us knew what Bucktown meant but it sounded interesting and Lynn said the restaurant was the best. I had visions of cowboys and a Bronco Billy setting... Our destination was Club Lucky on Wabansia Avenue. We piled into the car and we were off, trailing behind the guys in our Smart Car (Go Car?) It took awhile to decide how to spell "Wabansia" but fortunately, I did remember the address number. Shira punched it in to the GPS thingy in the car and voila! We knew which way to go -- just as we lost sight of the guys' car... We hit slow spots on the expressway at times where traffic came to a standstill or crawled along at 3 mph. The guys' car was lost to sight, which in the old days (like - 20 years ago) before cell phones and GPS thingys, would have been cause for mucho panic! But that GPS thingy got us to where we needed to go, and even before we got there thanks to some very chic driving by Shira, she caught us right back up to the guys and were tailgating them for a bit, just for a little bit of razz. Club Lucky is a great authentic Italian restaurant in a now "gentrifying" area of Chicago. Founded in 1990, it has recently come into vogue and "chic" people visit along with the occasional celebrity. Of course I count myself among them, even though I was wearing an ABC alphabet sweater and baggy blue jeans to match the bags under my eyes. Lynn acted as our host for the evening. It seemed he knew everyone and he knew the menu and what to order. Photo: Book shot of Club Lucky main dining room. We had a delicious and leisurely meal. The company was even better. I got to know a little bit about Greg, Lynn, Erin and Shira's backgrounds. Wow! These are some awesome people. I would glady work with this crew again. In fact, it was hard to say goodbye. The world today seems determined to beat us down, but knowing that people like this are out there in the world, doing good every single day - it is inspiring, and encouraging. All too soon, we ladies had to say fond goodbyes to the gentlemen, because Shira (who was driving) had to get me to Union Station so I could catch the 8:00 p.m. train back to Milwaukee. Query: How do three women navigate in a car equipped with GPS that says YOU ARE HERE, YOU ARE HERE (in what sounded to me like increasingly hysterical tones), upon arrival at our destination? Answer: We keep driving around in circles looking at each other saying WHERE? WHERE? WHERE IS IT? because Jan doesn't recognize anything! (Darlings - cut me some slack - it was DARK OUTSIDE! And where were the street signs, I might ask the City of Chicago, hey? I didn't see a sign saying Adams Street or Jackson Street. Do they take them down for the winter?) We'd left Club Lucky with plenty of time to get to the station but - the minutes ticked by and it was now 7:40 p.m. I'm thinking to myself "Self, you are going to have to stay overnight because you are going to miss the last train to Clarksville, er, Milwaukee). Just then, it was Erin who spotted the words UNION STATION many feet above our heads, atop a vast expanse of Corinthian pillars that grace the front facade of that mighty ediface! An ediface, I add, with which I'm not familiar since I now realize I have always managed to leave the Amtrak station and enter it via the Adams Street exit right on the Chicago River (which, I now understand, is actually an entrance to the Metra but also hooks up to Union Station somewhere underground, or something like that) --well, it was a comedy of minor errors, and all is well that ends well. It turns out we navigated to Clinton Street based on the address that Lynn had given us (the correct address), but it was not Canal Street, which I was looking for. Now, looking at a street map of the area around Union Station, I see that Canal Street is one street east (I think) of Clinton Street. Well! No wonder I didn't recognize anything! Map makers have no conception of how women actually navigate. They need to put landmarks on the maps as well as street names. With the target building now firmly in my sight, I said hasty goodbyes to Shira and Erin, jumped out of the Go Car (or Smart Car, or whatever it is) and did a lively step around the crosswalk (waiting respectfully for each light to turn to WALK even though there was no traffic) to get to the building; a brisk walk uphill and a left hand turn to the main entrance that looked vaguely familiar -- I think I walked past this facade in 2006. I glanced at my watch and my heart skipped a beat - 7:45 p.m.! I tried the first massively imposing brass mounted door I came to, wondering what the heck would I do if it was locked? It opened! Marble everywhere! I got down endless steps into the grand waiting room/hall as fast as I could go - gravity is my friend in this case! Then I am walking very fast (because I no longer run, not only because I would jiggle unforgivably, my weak ankles would never allow such activity as running), following the overhead signs toward the train platforms. In less than five minutes, I am in a part of the station that looks comfortably familiar. Ah! There is the Adams Street exit! I know where I am! Ahhhh, nothing to worry about after all, I got to Waiting Room B for Hiawatha with 10 minutes to spare (I even had time to double-check at a desk that actually had live person behind it giving information. I was out of breath but trying to look cool. Yeah, right Jan, as I discreetly attempt to wipe the sweat pouring from my brow. Then I settled back and watched the show as people poured into Waiting Area B after me, all of themn panting and thankful to have made it on time, right up to the time we started to board! As per usual (because I've taken that particular train enough times to know), the waiting room was packed with people travelling back to Milwaukee. I maneuvered as best I could to get a spot near the gate's entrance to the track. It seemed much longer, but actually it was probably only five minutes when one of the assistant conducts called the train and people hustled to line up and crowded toward the gate. Not at ALL like orderly Milwaukee, where people give respect to "first in line!" and lined up behind each other. NOOOOOOO - in Chicago, hoards of strangers press in all around you, trying to squeeze through a five foot wide doorway, and they will knock you out of the way if you don't claim your space with glowering face and pointed elbows! I'm very good at the glowering face, BTW. The matronly double chin helps tremendously... All the while I'm thinking "Darlings - chill! We ALL have to walk the same half-mile walk on stinky, wet underground concrete platforms to get to the few places where the conductors have placed the step-ladders to actually get up in to the train cars. Relax. There's enough seats for everyone!" Of course there is - I haven't yet seen a standing room only Hiawatha on a Sunday evening back to MKE. I estimate there were some 300 people taking that train back to MKE. I took a measured but determined pace and scored a seat all to myself, facing "backwards" once again. It didn't matter to me. I relaxed with eyes closed against the seat most of the ride north, and was vastly entertained by three lovely ladies in the seats in front of me (behind me?) who talked non-stop about their shopping expedition, their husbands, and fascinating details of their soap-opera drama worthy personal lives, until they got off at the Sturtevant stop! It's not that I wanted to eavesdrop, but in the close confines I really had no choice, since I didn't have ear plugs. As we slowed down to the Sturtevant station, I made sure I was up with eyes wide open, and I spotted the three ladies exiting to the platform, greeting their waiting husbands with big smooches. We arrived at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station on time and without incident. The "Intermodal Station" is a fancy name for a combined Amtrak and overland bus station, which used to be housed in separate locations a couple of blocks away from each other. The Intermodal is much prettier, especially at night, all lit up, now that it has emerged from a multi-million dollar makeover (photo right) but it sure isn't Union Station in Chicago! One of the advantages of not being Union Station is that I had a very short walk to the exit where taxis were waiting for passengers disembarking from the Chicago train (the drivers know the Hiawatha schedules much better than I do), and I lined up with other passengers for a very short wait for a cab. Zoom zoom zoom! I'm the next in line - cab pulls up. A hair-raising 18 minute ride later, I'm $31.50 lighter in the pocket book (not including tip), but I was home before 10:00 p.m. Ahhhhhhhh. The exorbitant cab fare was worth it! Goddess! What a long day. It started at 5:00 a.m. (and a crappy night's sleep beforehand). After I refrigerated my "doggy bag" from Club Lucky (I'd ordered Fettucini Alfredo and got about three days' worth of food that, frugle Milwaukeean that I am, I was not about to leave to the garbage), I scrubbed up for the night, determined to go to bed at a civilized hour because I had to return to the office the next day. Dream on... I sat up until 1:00 a.m. typing out the first blast of my experiences as a volunteer. Oy! Shira has since finished her work assignment in Chicago, and is on to a new assignment. I am hoping - I pray - that the lives of everyone we met with and interacted with on November 15, 2009 at the SOS Childrens Village Chicago, will spread out like the waves in a pond when a pebble has been tossed into its center. I can personally attest that I will never be the same after my experiences as a volunteer for this project. I'd do it again in a heart-beat.